The Indians were at their very best – mentally more than anything – as they took bodily blows, tackled the Australian sledging and chatter to bat the entire Day 5 as they eked out a miracle draw at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Monday. Ravichandran Ashwin and Hanuma Vihari were the heroes of the day as they batted the entire last session to ensure that the series stays at 1-1 with a game to play. India were in the game and even had a chance to win when Rishabh Pant was at the crease, however, his dismissal meant that India changed their approach as they looked to grind out the Aussie bowlers.
Vihari, who could barely run after suffering a hamstring injury early on in his innings, stood tall while Ashwin took blows to his body over-after-over when the new ball was taken. However, the duo refused to give up and struggled through the pain to stand tall and display great mental grit, something that skipper Virat Kohli had spoken about ahead of the Test series. Their fifty-run stand came in 44 overs that had Indian fans on their edge. Pat Cummins was lethal with his short bowling, Jos Hazlewood was on the mark and Nathan Lyon was accurate but fortune favoured the brave as they batted and batted and batted. There were some missed chances, a free top edges and a number of miscues, but that did not deter the pair who batted for more than three hours to salvage a draw when hardly anyone had given them a chance.
The first half of the day belonged to Rishabh Pant, who scored a quick 97 that got the target to less than 150 for the Indians, after they had been set 407 for a win. However, the quick departure of Pant and then Cheteshwar Pujara brought the home team into the game as they needed just five more wickets for a win. With Hanuma Vihari blowing hot and cold, Ravindra Jadeja battling a thumb fracture and a long tail to follow, the Australians would have fancied their chances but they would not have anticipated the events that panned out.
Pant, who walked in at 5, was on 7 off 36 at one stage, but upped the ante to get his fifty in just 64 balls. He was quick between the wickets, hit fours and sixes for fun and gave India a genuine chance of a win. He shared a 148-run stand with Pujara, who too grew in confidence and sent a few boundaries racing. He got his second fifty of the game, but the dismissal of Pant and then Pujara, who was bowled by a beautiful inswinging delivery by Josh Hazlewood, sent jitters in the Indian camp.
After Ajinkya Rahane had been sent back in just the second over of the day to ensure Australia had their tails ahead, the Indians went about their business in daring fashion. The Australians tried everything – all the four bowlers gave it their all – and even chatted up the Indians from time to time. On three separate occasions, Ashwin, who had an injured back, had to pull away before the bowler was to bowl, distracted by the mutterings of Australian skipper and keeper Tim Paine. Vihari too did not have it easy, as his hamstring injury became a laughing matter among the close-in fielders. Twice he was hit on the body by Matthew Wade, who attempted to field a ball back to the keeper, but the Indians stood tall to give the fans a day to remember for a long time.
India’s injury issues keep increasing though, with Vihari already ruled out of the next Test. Ravi Ashwin and Jasprit Bumrah will undergo scans for different injuries on Tuesday, and a final decision will be taken a day before the last Test match.
The Indians were racially abused, without key players, injured, bruised and distracted by the Australian fielders throughout the game, but Kohli’s never-say-die attitude has seeped in deep as the side battled everything out to stand tall and proud.
Brief scores: Australia 338 (Steve Smith 131; Ravindra Jadeja 4-62) & 312/6 dec (Marnus Labuschagne 73, Steve Smith 81, Cameron Green 84; Navdeep Saini 2-54, R Ashwin 2-95) drew with India 244 (Shubman Gill 50; Pat Cummins 4-29) & 334/5 (Shubman Gill 31, Rohit Sharma 52, Rishabh Pant 97, Cheteshwar Pujara 77 R Ashwin 39; Josh Hazlewood 2-39, Nathan Lyon 2-114).